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Navigating Baja – Dispatch #1

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On their Sea of Cortez adventure, the crew will learn canoe sailing and celestial navigation; Photograph by Max Lowe

The Adventurists Max Lowe and his new friends are taking the road less traveled on a ten-day adventure along the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico. Read all the dispatches.

Follow the coast north from Cabo San Lucas along winding roads past taco stands, whale bones, and lazy brahman cattle, and you’ll find yourself in the little town of Los Barilles, Mexico. Driving down streets rimmed by bright orange, blue, and red adobe-walled houses under the afternoon sun after an unexpected travel delay, I was late to convene with my fellow adventure companions, a group I had largely never met.

Hayden Peters and his girlfriend, Catherine Yrisarri, picked me up from the sunbaked curb of the airport amidst a dense crowd of spring breakers headed for the tequila shooters and luxury resorts of Cabo. Our Baja experience was to be a different sort, one you can’t buy in a vacation package. For ten days we would sail the coast of the Sea of Cortez via a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe, explore Baja’s desert highlands, and dive beneath the waves in pursuit of a very atypical spring break trip, one along the road less travelled.

Hayden and Catherine described our host, Chris Mathias, as something of prophet in the ways of a life well lived. A man of many pursuits and passions, Chris had come south as a 20 year old and fell in love with the striking beauty of the Baja Peninsula. The balance of the dry landscape of the desert thrown in stark against the abounding life of the Sea of Cortez provided a canvas for an existence rich in wild beauty and the amenities to fit most any need.

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The Adventurists team will find new adventures along the road less traveled on an authentic Baja spring break; Photograph by Max Lowe

As we rolled up the final dirt road and through the gate into Chris’s compound—which comprised of perma-parked Airstreams and palm frond-roofed palapas—we were met by the rest what would be our little family for the next ten days. Austin Kino, a native Hawaiian and man of the sea, had come to teach us the ways of celestial navigation and holupuni, the traditional Hawaiian style of sail canoe. We were also met by my friend Mary, a geographer and writer from Utah, as well as Chris’s two friends Lobo and Machu, who would join us in our sail canoeing and desert wanderings.

I could see that this little compound was an oasis of immaculate design. Over many years and with the help of friends and local Mexican craftsmen, Chris had brought to life his dream home in the natural landscape around us. All open air and shrouded by towering cactus, palms, and other local flora, this amazing spot was to be the home base for our adventure.

Chris walked up and greeted me with a hug and a smile. Austin and Mary had just returned from an afternoon stand-up paddling session off the beach, which was just a five-minute bike ride down the dusty dirt road. As I went around the circle of new faces introducing myself, I could immediately tell that this group of people would make our experience amazing.

As as the sun sank slowly toward the rust red hills, we headed down to the beach for tacos with our toes in the sand, while a lusty full moon rose out of the horizon and brought on our first night in Baja.

THE TEAM

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Max Lowe
‘s adventures are rooted in photography and storytelling. A National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee and Bozeman native who grew up in a family rooted in the outdoor industry, Max dabbles in most outdoor adventure sports. Recent excursions have taken him from skiing Denali to surfing Sumatra. In 2014, two of his short films were screened at Mountainfilm in Telluride. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic Adventure. See his last series for The Adventurists, Montana by Dirt.

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Austin Kino, a Hawaii native and waterman, is an apprentice navigator on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, a 47,000-nautical-mile adventure to circumnavigate the Earth in two traditional Polynesian sailing canoes by 2017. Austin grew up in the Wailupe Valley on Oahu, where his family passed on their love for the ocean. He is also a konohiki, or caretaker, for OluKai.

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Hayden Peters films television, documentary films, and commercials for National Geographic, PBS, and top advertising agencies and brands. He blends a strong technical ability with an artistic eye and personal nature to capture any story in a beautiful and engaging way—whether it’s happening underwater, halfway around the world, or in his own backyard. Learn Hayden’s own story in the short film The Coast.

Catherine Yrisarri’s love of stories, people, and far-off places has lead her to over 50 countries across the globe exploring everything from faith across the world to polygamy, Inupiat whaling, State Department politics, the origins of gang violence and children’s visions of the future around the world. She’s brought stories to life for clients like National Geographic Channel’s Inside series, National Geographic Creative, New York Times T-Brand Studio, Discovery Channel, PBS, OWN, and independent, award-winning filmmakers.

The Adventurists blog series “Navigating Baja” is sponsored by OluKai, which provided footwear for this adventure.